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How Breastfeeding Leads to Unplanned Pregnancies and Second Children

Hormonal rebounds after the first few months of parenthood create a perfect storm for accidental conception, doctors warn.

Irish twins aren’t just for the Irish. And they aren’t just for people looking to have second children. According to Dr. Angela Jones, a gynecologist and sexual hearth expert, a surprising number of the roughly 30 percent of women who get pregnant in the first 18 months after having a child do so by accident. The reason has to do with misconceptions about breastfeeding as a form of birth control.

“While breastfeeding, a woman isn’t likely to get a regular period, but ovulation is still possible,” explains Jones, who moonlights as Astroglide’s resident sexual health adviser. “This is one of the reasons I never recommend using breastfeeding exclusively for contraception.”

Although hormonal forms of birth control are generally regarded as safe for the baby, nursing mothers often avoid using them because the progesterone and estrogen can mess with their milk supply. Outside of IUDs and condoms, many new moms rely on the lactational amenorrhea method of birth control, or LAM, which operates on the premise that a breastfeeding woman can’t get pregnant. However, this is true only under very specific circumstances. For LAM to be effective, the baby has to be less than six months old, exclusively breastfeeding, and a woman cannot be having her period. Moms who are breastfeeding past the six-month mark or supplementing their baby’s diet or getting irregular periods can absolutely get pregnant. And they do because it’s a sexy time.

While mothers gradually wean babies off of nursing and they begin to ovulate again, many fathers experience a similar hormonal rebound, urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt explains. Specifically, men who experience a natural testosterone decline after having children, which makes them less fertile, tend to see a hormonal backlash after adjusting they adjust to the stress of parenthood. This tends to happen prior to or around the six month mark. The return of testosterone means the return of amorous intentions and more sperm. However, it’s important to note that while testosterone levels are correlated with male fertility, men can still produce and deliver plenty of sperm even during a dip.

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“Because of the life cycle of sperm, what may acutely decrease your testosterone today may not cause changes in your sperm parameters for months,” Brahmbhatt says. “Many couples I see assume that post-pregnancy because of breastfeeding or other factors that they can’t get pregnant when the reality is it’s always a possibility if you are ovulating and he is making sperm.”

For most new parents, sex is not front of mind so contraception isn’t either. An opportunistic role in the hay can therefore become a lifetime commitment. This is why many doctors consider it particularly important to discuss contraception options during postpartum checkups. Parents just aren’t focused on themselves.

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“Awareness is key in preventing that second unplanned pregnancy,” Jones says, adding that the term “unplanned” is somewhat loaded. Although all pregnancies are stressful, more often than not moms and dads welcome second pregnancies even when they are surprises. And he would know — his twins were born 14 months after his first child.

It was unplanned,” he says, “but looking back today life couldn’t have worked out any better even with a plan.”